Snug but cozy
Tucked into a narrow space, Anatolian Kitchen serves traditional Turkish cuisine with warm ambiance
It's an awkward space for a restaurant. Longish and narrow, the space at 2323 Birch St. in Palo Alto can verge on chaotic when busy, with servers doing quick sidesteps to allow patrons to pass. Anyone heading for the aft restroom can easily create a bottleneck.
Yet that's dampened neither the enthusiasm nor the quality of food at Anatolian Kitchen, the successor to the space most recently occupied by Oaxacan Kitchen. Before Oaxacan Kitchen, the place was a lighting store; thus the inefficiency. It wasn't built to house restaurants.
Open since October, Anatolian Kitchen was the dream of Dino Tekdemir. A native of Diyarbakir, Turkey, he worked in Bay Area eateries for a decade before taking the entrepreneurial plunge. "My goal was always to own my own restaurant," Tekdemir said.
Brother and chef Sahan came in 2007 to get up to speed on the vagaries of being a California restaurateur. Today, the two manage every aspect of their neighborhood dining spot. The Tekdemir family was also in the food business in Turkey, and the menu reflects a warm, homemade style.
"Our food is exactly like our mother made for us in Turkey, fresh and healthy," Dino said. "We have a woman come to the kitchen in the morning and again in the afternoon to bake bread, just as our mother did. Everything we do must be fresh and made right here.
"In Turkey, when guests come, we serve them the finest food, give them the best of our house. That is how we treat our patrons, like guests in our house."
On a recent visit, I found that the black sesame seed-topped bread was indeed fresh, as were the wedges of pita bread that appeared on my table seconds after I was seated. (I was a bit surprised that a foil-wrapped pat of butter accompanied rather than an oil-infused dipping sauce.)
I ate all the pita before the baba ghanoush ($6) arrived. There was no offer of more. I managed the mashed grilled eggplant — which had garlic, pepper, fresh herbs and lemon with a tiny bead of olive oil atop — with my fork. Not the best way. The baba ghanoush was tasty enough, although the eggplant didn't quite have enough charcoal-y flavor.
I was wiser the next time and saved the pita for the hummus ($4.50). The blend of pulped garbanzo beans with tahini (sesame paste), lemon juice, garlic and olive oil was appetizing and the portion ample.
I loved the cacik ($5.50). The blend of yogurt with chopped cucumber, dill, garlic and olive oil made for a tasty start, and should make a great appetizer in the warm summery days just around the corner.
Piyas ($6) was a pasty and very filling concoction of white beans, red onion, red and green bell peppers, parsley and olive oil. About half was all I could manage with more courses to come. There wasn't much seasoning, which I suppose is authentic, but the dish was on the bland side.
For main courses, I thought the moussaka ($13.95) particularly good with sliced eggplant, ground lamb and beef, onion, zucchini and potato. It was all steeped in a light tomato sauce, its top coated with a rich bechamel sauce. In all, an appealing, satisfying dish that didn't overfill.
"Alexander's Favorite" ($13.95) was sliced lamb and beef layered over bread cubes with tomato sauce, butter and yogurt. The bread absorbed the sauces and added bulk to the plate. Happily, the meat was atop and there was plenty of it. I didn't need the bread cubes but was happy they were there in case my appetite raged. There was plenty of meat, though, and the yogurt added a nice tang to the saucing.
The rib-eye shish ($16.95) was two skewers' worth of marinated cubed rib-eye steak chunks. The meat was fork-tender and perfectly cooked, and the mound of crisp hot fries almost made this a French bistro fusion dish.
The stuffed eggplant ($11.50) with tomato, onion, red and green peppers, herbs and olive oil wasn't quite stuffed. The vegetables were layered over a thick slice of eggplant. It was more a plate of stewed vegetables than what I had hoped for, warm and comforting but lacking a distinct flavor profile. The side of rice was not a fluffy pilaf but more of a sticky rice dotted with bits of peas and carrots.
Desserts were a mixed bag. The kunefe ($5), baked shredded filo dough filled with goat cheese and topped with a sweet house syrup, was especially good. I loved the subtle tastes and textures of this cake: crunchy, sweet and creamy with a hint of tanginess.
I scratched my head over the profiteroles ($4.75). The tiny cream puffs were entombed in a ponderous puddle of house-made chocolate sauce. Dino Tekdemir told me the chocolate sauce was made from Turkish processed cocoa powder. They shouldn't have been on the menu at all in that state. Profiteroles are not supposed to be like a hot fudge sundae.
Much happier, though, was the delicious rice pudding ($4.50), a lush, tapioca-like sweet-cooked pudding. I restrained myself from ordering seconds.
The wine list drifts from Mediterranean to California wines, reds and whites, about two dozen in all, suitable and affordable. Cocktail selections include martinis, margaritas, cosmos, mojitos and fizzes.
Decor-wise, Anatolian Kitchen is homey and warm. Artistic silver plates, 100-year-old leather shoes and Kurdish rugs adorn, but do not overwhelm, the walls. Overall, the restaurant overcomes its awkward space to become a friendly neighborhood dining experience with down-to-earth prices, fresh fare and cozy ambiance.
2323 Birch St., Palo Alto
Lunch: Daily 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Dinner: Mon-Thu. 5-9:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.; Sun. 5-9 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Alcohol: cocktails and wine
Outdoor dining: streetside tables
Party facilities: no
Noise level: low
Bathroom cleanliness: good